There was an article the other day by an aptly first named Google economist - Hal Varian (yup they employ those, probably some Nobel prize winner in demand and supply) whose basic argument that the so-called arms race in search or the “Scale” battle was a furphy - as little algorithms can win out. CNet : “So in all of this stuff, the scale arguments are pretty bogus in our view because it’s not the quantity or quality of the ingredients that make a difference, it’s the recipes. We think we’re where we are today because we’ve got better recipes and we have better recipes because we spent 10 years working on search improving the performance of the algorithm.”
I’m definitely not getting into the Size debate - but if u want to get to a $47.5m size Friendfeed-ish flip - then there is alot to be said for having a unique, beautiful, clean, working, scalable product. It’s even better if end users like it and it’s not easy to copy the different parts. Extra bonus if u r the leader in your space and no one really does what u do. And most importantly esp in consumer space - u need a big X-Factor.
So much more understandable, but still suitably abstract if you dont use it - is Polyvore.com - Whose original elevator pitch I remember from Xoogler Jess Less - whose blog I discovered via Friendfeed in the kewl Mountain View beta testing community days. From Jess’ Why Polyvore post (March 08) before joining : “My friend Thai showed me Polyvore back in October. “Check out this site my friend Pasha is building,” he said. I instantly fell in love. It was like a combination of online Photoshop and Flickr, but for art instead of photos. I was fascinated by all the cool things people were creating using Polvore — fashion, interior design, artistic self-expression, caricatures, logos, postcards, etc. I started making my own sets and was surprised by how quickly they got comments and “Likes” from the user community. I ended up winning Polyvore’s Halloween contest. ”
Jess described Polyvore as Photoshop meets Flickr, on the web. That’s how I remembered it. And like alot of the gr8 web services since 2004 - investing a couple hours at the start of a service is well worth the later return. Examples of products I use which I’m glad I learnt.
- How to configure and utilise an RSS reader, add feeds etc (Google Reader)
- Searching for finding, seeding + leeching, unraring .avi’s (TorrentVault)
- Tagging web pages for later reference (Delicious)
- Sending 140 character status messages (Twitter)
- Blogging - where little things like adding hyperlinks and uploading pics had to be learnt at the start (Blogger then Wordpress)
- Bookmarking pages with images (Friendfeed)
- Clipping clothes n kicks I want + inserting later in blog posts (Polyvore)
Polyvore is one of the product innovations from a team of young but heavily experienced in sophisticated web apps (founders from Google Maps + Yahoo Pipes) - that focused on a very specific totally new type of clipping community. When they setup there were many “tagging” and “bookmarking” services wanting to be the next Delicious.
But Polyvore was more about Fashion, and deep product sharing within community and then allowing a personal expression of taste via a scrapbook “photoshop” like blank canvas where u drag and drop the products u want to create an embeddable portfolio of today’s must have items.
So I’m glad to hear Polyvore are up to 4m unique users and have raised another $5.6m to further their growth. It’s such a textbook internet company, it pains me that downunder we can’t learn from the people, capabilities they develop, and execution path - We have exceptions, the too often quoted Atlassian and Remember the Milk, some say Red Bubble… but overall they are the exception that prove the rule. I doubt there are more than a few technical people working in the online industry in Australia that could understand, emulate, and innovate in a similar technical vein to what Polyvore are doing. But I hold out hope that such a superteam does or could exist.
And en masse really is what needed. While Polyvore may grow in numbers staffwise now.. it hasn’t been bigger than alot of small to medium sized online businesses in Australia (or online business units within larger companies) Why in Australia we don’t have more 10 employee venture funded stockoption incented product/technically vertically focused companies is the never ending question that only gets worse. Yes, we have multibillion dollar Seeks, and a $800M+ listing of auto equivalent Carsales - we have little coming up behind them.
Techcrunch Blurb on raising : “The service, which just crossed 4 million unique visitors and 150 million pageviews a month, allows web shoppers to pull their favorite items any online store and mix and match to create personalized outfits online. Users can then share their creations with friends, and, most importantly, anyone can then buy the items shown. This social side of shopping has users engaged. The average visitor spends 10 minutes on the site each time they log on, we’re told. The new $5.6 million Series B round is led by Matrix Partners, alongside previous investors Benchmark Capital and Harrison Metal Capital. Previously, the site had raised $2.5 million from Benchmark, Harrison Metal, Reid Hoffman, and Nirav Tolia. Polyvore launched in 2007, founded by a bunch of ex-Yahoo employees. Since then, it has expanded the team with some talent from the likes of Google and Intuit. The plan for this new money is to further expand the engineering and sales teams, and to promote growth.”
Yes there are editorially focused innovators like CarAdvice.com.au - but as for software meets community scalable vertical consumer leaders… I’ll have to get back to you… because they don’t exist yet… And I dont see the teams working on the edges either.. but I’d love to hear I’m wrong.
I’d like to hear more stories like Jess Lee downunder. But nup - here people work for a bank at lovely daily rates/ go to Google / bide their time at a newspaper ala Fairfax or News / leave the country for an overseas startup if ambitious/ stay local + become a freelance social media consultant + twitter about twitter - which is only one degree of separation from cubicle work often. The reality is none of the companies started downunder in the web2 boom have amounted to much cited examples aside. Which points to a very unhealthy market. Why would u go work at a startup… From the same Jess Lee post about Polyvore - how many Australian online companies and the industry as a whole engenders this response (unfortunately few + as a whole it doesnt, any more and hasnt for a long time)
Jess Lee - Why Polyvore ? : “I got so excited about Polyvore that I sent a long email full of comments, suggestions, and complaints to Pasha, even though I had never met him before. After a few email exchanges, he asked me if I wanted to join Polyvore. I’ve always wanted to work at a startup and felt like Polyvore was a good fit — great team, great product, just the right size (3 people at the time), healthy growth, etc. It also happened to fall at the intersection of many of my personal interests (tech, art, shopping, fashion, user-generated content). Although I was pretty happy working on Google Maps, I felt like I wasn’t learning as much new stuff anymore, and I knew that a startup would have a really steep learning curve. Some of my friends thought I was crazy to leave Google, but I thought back to the advice my former boss Marissa had given me to always take the more challenging, more risky path (this was the advice that made me choose a job at Google over a job at Intuit), and decided to follow that advice once again. So I decided to take the leap…”
I still want 2C Inglourious Basterds.. but maybe read NY-Times on the (backers of flick the famous tantrum throwing) Weinstein brothers (who wasted their money on the MySpace for VIPs A-Small-World); “Swinging a blue cocktail in one hand, he held forth about the time that Harvey told him he’d like to invest in a restaurant. The goal, Harvey explained to Mr. Tarantino at the time, wasn’t to schmooze, or to get the best table. New York City had just banned cigarettes from restaurants and Harvey, then an avid smoker, didn’t approve. “He said, ‘I want to light up in my own restaurant and blow smoke in the fire marshal’s face,’ ” Mr. Tarantino recalled. Vintage Harvey chutzpah. The story killed, and when the laughing died down, Bob smiled, waited a beat and added another punch line. “A million dollars,” he sighed, “for a cigarette.”“